- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Washington Capitals had hoped to have as many as six of their draft picks playing for various countries in the IIHF World Junior Championships, which start Saturday in North Dakota and Minnesota. The fact that the Caps were shut out of Team Canada shows how strong that team is.

Nonetheless, four Caps will be competing in the tournament the United States won last year in Helsinki. Forward Alexander Ovechkin will skate for Russia, forward Chris Bourque for the United States, defenseman Oscar Hedman for Sweden and forward Peter Guggisberg for Switzerland.

Right wing Eric Fehr and defenseman Mike Green did not make the Canadian team after tryouts last week in Winnipeg. Both were first-round picks by the Caps, Fehr two years ago and Green last summer.

Fehr was a late cut for the second straight year even though he is the leading goal-scorer in junior hockey throughout Canada and should score 50 goals for the second year in a row. Fehr had a bad start in training camp but still was running neck-and-neck with Corey Perry for the third and last right wing slot. Coach Brent Sutter picked Perry, who is second to Fehr in goal scoring in Canada.

Green also got off to a horrible start in Team Canada’s camp but finished strong. However, the feeling among observers was that the coaching staff had its defensive corps picked before camp started, leaving Green without a spot. Twelve of the 18 skaters on the team were veterans from last year’s silver medal club.

Bourque managed to beat the odds. The Boston University freshman and son of the retired Bruins Hall of Famer earned a spot on the team, which defends its championship starting Christmas Day. It was his first attempt at the national team.

ESPN will air the U.S.-Russia game at 7:30p.m. on Christmas; the U.S.-Switzerland game at 8p.m. on Dec.27; and the U.S.-Belarus tape-delayed game at 8:30p.m. on Dec.29.

Portland suffering

Coach Tim Army has most of his banged-up defensemen back with the Portland (Maine) Pirates, the Caps’ top farm team in the American Hockey League, but now he is missing some key forwards. Leading scorer Trent Whitfield is out with a concussion, and team captain Graham Mink has a back strain, which isn’t helping the club’s inability to score lately and has resulted in just two wins in its last 10 games.

But 6-foot-6 defenseman Nolan Yonkman has returned after two serious knee injuries, “and having him out there makes us a better team,” Army said.

Jakub Cutta is back from a shoulder problem, and Dwayne Zinger’s broken hand has healed, putting another large body in the lineup.

There is even more good news for a team that has won just 11 of 30 games. Right wing Brian Willsie has returned from playing in Slovenia during the NHL lockout and scored a goal in his first game back. On the down side, feisty center Darcy Verot was suspended for two games for receiving a match penalty in a game against Hartford.

“Having some of the defensemen back has enabled us to keep the puck out of our own end more consistently,” Army said. “And we’re starting to get some scoring from people who hadn’t been contributing much. Every little bit helps.”

London falls

The London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League finally lost after opening the season with 31 games without a loss (29-0-2). The Knights, playing without three stars who are in the world junior tournament, lost 5-2 to Sudbury on Friday night, their first loss since last April.

The Knights are owned and run by two former Caps, general manager Mark Hunter and coach Dale Hunter. Dylan Hunter, Dale’s son and a former L’il Cap, is a star forward for the Knights.

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